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Remaking the Service Class? Class Relations Among Software Developers in Ireland. National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA). Working Paper Series. No. 23

O Riain, Sean (2004) Remaking the Service Class? Class Relations Among Software Developers in Ireland. National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA). Working Paper Series. No. 23. NIRSA - National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Professionals and experts have always posed a problem for companies as well as for class analysts. On the one hand, these workers are clearly wage labourers and employees and therefore share similar underlying antagonisms with their employers as less skilled workers. However, their particular skills give them a power in the workplace and in the labour market which distinguishes them from less skilled workers. This is the classic problem of the middle class in class analysis. This ambiguous position is further complicated by the way in which professionals market power creates connections between the expert worker class location and other class locations. While professionals and experts may be workers, they may also be capitalists, managers or in the petty bourgeoisie (Wright, 1989). This combination of class locations poses a particular problem for companies as they attempt to reconcile the multiple, overlapping and potentially contradictory interests of these experts with the goals and strategies of the firm itself. Professional workers have been described, by Weberian and Marxist analysts, as members of a 'service class' who exchange not only effort for wages but a much more diffuse commitment to service to their employer for a more general and long-term prospect of compensation and career development. In the advanced capitalist economies in the post-war 'Golden Age' this 'service relation' was secured largely through the institutions of the hierarchical corporation, the internal labour market and the bureaucratic career (Goldthorpe, 1982, 2000). However, these very institutions have been significantly transformed in recent decades as 'delayering' of network organizations and decreased job security have weakened the bureaucratic career (Savage, 2000). Crucially, even the most skilled of professional workers rarely expect to spend their careers with the same employer, even if they ultimately do so. This paper investigates how the service relation between employer and professional worker is transformed under these conditions. In drawing on an ethnographic study of software developers in the Republic of Ireland during the 'Celtic Tiger' boom in 1997, the paper explores these trends in an industry, occupation and economic setting where they can be seen most clearly. The software industry in Ireland in the late 1990s was characterized by small firms with relatively few layers of management, rapid turnover of staff and little expectation of 'loyalty' or lifetime employment on the part of either employer or employee (Ó Riain, 2000, 2004). I argue that the institutional changes in the regulation of class relations between professionals and employers has not undermined the service relation but has transformed it for certain employees1. 'Service' is still exchanged for the long-term prospect of 'compensation'. However, where the service relation of the 'Golden Age' rested firmly on long-term employee and employer expectations, these temporal horizons have been much shortened and even obscured. The reconciliation of the various class positions in which professionals find themselves (worker, self-employed petit bourgeois, owner of share capital) is less and less effectively carried out through the temporal structure of the career and is telescoped within the structure of work, increasingly organized around project teams. This creates significant instability in class relations among professionals and the coordination of professional class relations is increasingly carried out through spatial rather than temporal 'fixes'at least partly explaining the increasing importance of regional economies relative to corporate hierarchicies. The high tech region becomes not only a 'milieu of innovation' but also a crucible of class relations and the re-negotiation of the terms of 'professional service'.

Item Type: Other
Additional Information: Working Paper Series No. 23
Keywords: Class Relations; Software Developers; NIRSA;
Subjects: Social Sciences > Sociology
Social Sciences > NIRSA-National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis
Item ID: 224
Depositing User: Prof. Sean O Riain
Date Deposited: 24 Jun 2005
Publisher: NIRSA - National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis
Refereed: No
URI:

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